Flu cases very high in Washington: DOH urges everyone take precautions

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is informing Washingtonians that the flu is spreading at a high rate in Washington state right now. The current flu season is early this year and flu deaths are at higher rates than usually seen at this point in the year. As of December 10, 40 people have died from the flu in Washington including three children.

DOH strongly recommends everyone aged 6 months and older get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. It can help keep individuals from getting severe illness or spreading the disease and prevent hospitalizations in an already strained healthcare system. If someone does get the flu when they are vaccinated, it’s typically milder with fewer complications. The vaccine also lowers the risk of needing medical care.

“It’s not too late to get your flu shot, so we urge everyone aged 6 months and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, Secretary of Health. “Flu is spreading rapidly through our state and getting your flu shot now helps to protect us all, especially as we plan to gather for holidays and events.”

The most common strain of flu seen so far this year is influenza A (H3N2). This strain typically causes more severe disease. All available flu vaccines provide protection against H3N2.

Remember that the flu can be serious and deadly, even for young and otherwise healthy adults. Flu can be especially dangerous to people who are under five years old, aged 65 or older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have chronic health conditions.

The flu vaccine is available at most pharmacies, healthcare provider offices, and clinics. The flu vaccine can be received at the same time as any other vaccine.

In addition to the flu, other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 and RSV are making both children and adults sick and overloading our hospitals. Individuals can help keep themselves, their family, and their community healthy by getting a flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster and taking other measures to prevent getting sick or spreading illness to others. DOH recommends:

  • Get up to date on any vaccines that are due. This includes the yearly flu vaccine and any COVID-19 boosters for those 6 months and older. Vaccination is your best defense against many serious diseases.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when soap is not available, and hands are not visibly soiled.
  • Consider wearing a mask in crowded or indoor settings.
  • Sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm or a tissue so you don’t put germs on your hands or in the air.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you feel sick, stay home.

Find out more at KnockOutFlu.org.

Communities seeing rapid increase in flu activity across the U.S.

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) wants the public to know flu cases are rising quickly in Washington state and nationwide. Flu hospitalizations are at the highest rates seen in 10 years for this point in the year. In the last two weeks, DOH is reporting high cases of flu-like illnesses in Washington.

Flu illness can have serious health consequences, especially for people who are under five years old, age 65 or older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have chronic health conditions.

In addition to the flu, other respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19 and RSV, are combining to push our hospitals to emergency capacity. Help keep yourself and your community healthy by getting a flu vaccine and taking other measures to prevent illness.

“Our state’s pediatric healthcare system is overloaded with extremely high numbers of children with respiratory infections,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, chief science officer for DOH. “Families urgently need to do everything they can to keep everyone healthy and avoid the need for healthcare, and flu vaccination is one of the most important prevention tools.”

Following the proper prevention and hygiene practices can halt the spread of respiratory illnesses. Washington State Department of Health recommends:

  • Get vaccinated. Vaccination is your best defense against flu and COVID-19.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when soap is not available, and hands are not visibly soiled.
  • Consider wearing a mask in crowded settings.
  • If you are sneezing or coughing, wear a mask or use the crook of your arm or a tissue to avoid getting germs onto your hands or spreading virus in the air.
  • Avoid close contact with sick individuals.
  • If you feel sick, stay home.

The most common strain so far is influenza A (H3N2). This strain typically causes more severe disease. All available flu vaccines provide protection against H3N2.

DOH strongly recommends everyone aged 6 months and older get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. It takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to be effective making it a key time to get vaccinated before people get together for the December holidays. If you get the flu when you are vaccinated, it’s typically milder and the vaccine can prevent serious complications including hospital care.

The flu vaccine is available at most pharmacies, health care providers’ offices, and clinics. State employees are eligible to receive SmartHealth points for receiving a flu vaccine. The flu vaccine can be received on the same day as the updated COVID-19 updated booster and other vaccines.

Find out more at KnockOutFlu.org.

Will Covid Spike Again This Fall? 6 Tips to Help You Stay Safe

Last year, the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the covid-19 virus caught many people by surprise and led to a surge in cases that overwhelmed hospitals and drove up fatalities. Now we’re learning that omicron is mutating to better evade the immune system.

Omicron-specific vaccines were authorized by the FDA in August and are recommended by U.S. health officials for anyone 5 or older. Yet only half of adults in the United States have heard much about these booster shots, according to a recent KFF poll, and only a third say they’ve gotten one or plan to get one as soon as possible. In 2020 and 2021, covid cases spiked in the U.S. between November and February.

Although we don’t know for sure that we’ll see another surge this winter, here’s what you should know about covid and the updated boosters to prepare.

1. Do I need a covid booster shot this fall?

If you’ve completed a primary vaccination series and are 50 or older, or if your immune system is compromised, get a covid booster shot as soon as possible. Forty percent of deaths are occurring among people 85 and older and almost 90% among people 65 and over. Although people of all ages are being hospitalized from covid, those hospitalizations are also skewing older.

Unvaccinated people, while in the minority in the U.S., are still at the highest risk of dying from covid. It’s not too late to get vaccinated ahead of this winter season. The United Kingdom, whose covid waves have presaged those in the United States by about a month, is beginning to see another increase in cases.

If you’ve already received three or more covid shots, you’re 12 to 49 years old, and you’re not immunocompromised, your risk of hospitalization and death from the disease is significantly reduced and additional boosters are not likely to add much protection.

However, getting a booster shot provides a “honeymoon” period for a couple of months after vaccination, during which you’re less likely to get infected and thus less likely to transmit the virus to others. If you’ll be seeing older, immunocompromised, or otherwise vulnerable family and friends over the winter holidays, you might want to get a booster two to four weeks in advance to better shield them against covid.

You may have other reasons for wanting to avoid infection, like not wanting to have to stay home from work because you or your child is sick with covid. Even if you aren’t hospitalized from covid, it can be costly to lose wages or arrange for backup child care.

One major caveat to these recommendations: You should wait four to six months after your last covid infection or vaccination before getting another shot. A dose administered too soon will be less effective because antibodies from the previous infection or vaccination will still be circulating in your blood and will prevent your immune cells from seeing and responding to vaccination.

Read the full article from KHN.

Public health experts recommend the flu and COVID-19 vaccines for everyone age 6 months and older

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is urging the public to get an influenza (flu) vaccine in addition to a COVID-19 booster this fall to keep themselves and others safe and out of the hospital.

In recent years flu activity was low due to the preventive benefits of social distancing, masking, and other COVID-19 precautions. Now that guidance and recommendations have relaxed, people are more active, mobile, and have returned to traditional gatherings. At the tail of the last flu season, Washington experienced an unusual late spring wave of flu.

With the start of fall, many adults have returned to in-person work and most children are back in school. These conditions could lead to an increase in flu or COVID-19 cases this fall or winter.

“Flu can be unpredictable and sometimes severe,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer. “To protect your family’s health, getting vaccinated against influenza with a flu shot or nasal spray vaccine should be part of the fall routine for everyone 6 months and older. It’s also the perfect time to get up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters too.”

Young children, pregnant people, those with underlying health conditions, and people aged 65 and older are at high risk for flu-related complications. The flu is a highly contagious disease that can cause severe illness and lead to hospitalization and death – even in healthy, young people. Getting a flu vaccine reduces the chance of flu illness and protects individuals from serious flu symptoms. The flu shot can be safely given at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

Flu illness is more dangerous than the common cold for children, especially for children under 5 years old. Flu can be deadly in young children. About 80% of flu-related deaths in children are in those who were not vaccinated. Across Washington, the flu vaccine, and all recommended childhood vaccines, are available at no cost for everyone age 18 years and younger.

For weekly flu activity reports, educational materials, vaccine information, and other flu prevention resources, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org. For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, visit the COVID-19 website.

Pediatric Flu Vaccinations Down About 25% From This Time Last Year

OLYMPIA – Childhood flu vaccine rates have dropped significantly this fall compared to the previous two flu seasons. Now, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is encouraging families to get themselves and their children vaccinated as soon as possible to keep people safe and out of the hospital, especially as we head into the holiday season.

Flu is a highly contagious disease that can cause severe illness and death, even in healthy people. Recent data from the Washington state immunization information system shows flu vaccinations were down about 25% during the months of September and October for kids ages 6 months through 5 years old. Since last year’s flu activity was very low, we expect fewer people to have natural immunity this year due to a lack of exposure, especially in younger age groups.

“Flu can be serious for kids, and a flu vaccine is the best way to protect them. With the holidays quickly approaching, it is crucial parents take precautionary steps now to keep everyone in the family healthy and safe,” said Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, Chief Science Officer. “A flu vaccine is especially important this year due to the potential dangers of both flu and COVID-19 circulating at the same time.”

Flu activity is unpredictable. The timing, severity, and length can change from one year to the next. Typically, flu activity peaks between December and February, although significant activity can last as late as May.

“We are concerned that our youngest children remain vulnerable to both flu and COVID-19 illness,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Although the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available for kids 4 and under, the flu vaccine is. As parents, we want to do everything in our power to protect our children – and vaccination is an important tool that’s available to every family in Washington.”

The flu vaccine is available at pharmacies, clinics, and health care provider offices across the state. To search for flu vaccines, visit Vaccines.gov. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. When children get their flu vaccine, it is a great time to ensure they are up to date on their other routine childhood immunizations as well. People age 5 and older who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine can receive it on the same day they receive the flu vaccine.

For weekly flu activity reports, educational materials, vaccine information, and other flu prevention resources, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org.

Flu Vaccine Now Available for Uninsured Adults at No Cost

The Department of Health is collaborating with Safeway Inc. and Albertsons Companies LLC to offer no-cost influenza (flu) vaccination for uninsured adults over the age of 18 to help prevent flu illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health officials are concerned that the presence of both viruses could put more people in the hospital and strain Washington’s health care system.

Twenty-three Albertsons and Safeway pharmacies across the state will offer flu vaccine free of charge through June 2021 to uninsured adults. The pharmacies will not charge an administration fee, and no proof of residency or immigration status will be required.

Find the list of participating locations on the department’s website.

Everyone 6 months and older needs a new flu vaccine every year. Young children, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, and those aged 65 and older are at high risk of complications from flu illness. Flu is a highly contagious disease that can cause mild to severe illness, can lead to hospitalization, and can even be fatal – even in healthy young adults. Getting a flu vaccine reduces your chances of getting the flu but does not prevent other respiratory infections.

Adults who have insurance should also get vaccinated now. Flu vaccine for those age 19 and older is covered by most insurance companies and by Medicare and Apple Health (Medicaid). Washington also provides flu vaccine, and all recommended vaccines, at no cost to everyone under the age of 19.

The effort is a collaboration between Safeway, Albertsons and the Department of Health.

For help finding a health care provider or vaccine location, and to learn more about flu, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org